Monthly Archives: December 2013

Record #1: Please Please Me (2009 Remaster)

Welcome to Bill’s Bologna. I know the past week or two have been lacking in posts. The holidays are a busy time of year & I promise I’ll be back in full swing after the new year.

This week, I’ve decided to add a new category to The Bologna.

As many of you know, I’m a musician. Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate good audio quality, specifically in LPs (short for long play), or records. See, I grew up with a father who showed me what a special listening experience playing a record is. My dad is very meticulous in the way he handles his record collection. He’s had them since he was a child & has always emphasized the care that must be taken in order to keep the vinyl in top condition. I completely agree with him, but I can be a little clumsy at times. That made me a little nervous to start handling them on my own.

At any rate, I figured it was about time I started getting my hands on these things & thankfully, over the Christmas holiday, I got a push to do just that. One of my gifts was a turntable, which is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve received in a while.

That set me to thinking a bit. I decided to post my experiences as I get new records & listen to them for the first time. It’s not because I’m trying to be pretentious (Yes, I know bragging about LPs can be a very annoying hipster-esque thing), but because I have a genuine love & intense passion for music & I want to share it with you.

Okay, let’s dive into record number one.

Along with the turntable, I was given the 2009 remaster of The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me. I’m a Beatle freak, & coincidentally, it was also the first album I ever owned. My father bought it for me on cassette when I was in the second grade. This was a very appropriate start to the collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the record, it’s the one that kicks off with Paul McCartney’s, “One-Two-Three-Faww!” of “I Saw Her Standing There” & ends with John Lennon’s vocal chord-shredding performance of “Twist and Shout.”

The first thing I noticed was the cover artwork. It’s a fairly bland photo of the four Beatles leaning over a railing in EMI Record’s London headquarters. I’d seen the photo a million times in my life, but this was the first time it was different. When blown up from the size of a CD jewel case to the size of a record jacket, it becomes much more impressive. You can tell that regardless of simplicity, much more thought went into the artwork than it does today. That makes sense. It has to catch your eye & there’s more opportunity for that on a large record jacket. The bigger the container, the bigger the artwork. The bigger the medium, more attention to creativity & detail is paid.

The Please Please Me cover.

The Please Please Me cover.

Before I get into my listening experience, let me just say that Paul McCartney has stated that the 2009 remasters of their albums are as close as you’re going to get to sounding like you’re standing in the studio with them, without actually doing so. Here’s the thing: that quotation is only regarding the CD, which is completely digital. As such, it has all sorts of limiting & compression. That’s the industry standard for CD & .mp3. Vinyl, on the other hand is unrestricted analog data. In other words, what you hear is what you get – the needle vibrating on tiny ridges in the record grooves. Yes, sometimes engineers still use the compression, but the sound is otherwise unrestricted, full & pure. On top of what was already a pure sound, engineers at Abbey Road took an extra three years to perfect it for vinyl release, removing the limiting & compression that goes into digital files & going through note by note to remove nearly everything which would be considered detrimental to the sound. They did this all while being careful to preserve coughs, sneezes, bad chords & anything the band did that is deemed to be part of the performances. Needless to say, I was very excited to start listening.

Minutes after tearing off the wrapping paper, I carefully pulled the sleeve out of the jacket & taking care only to touch it on its edges, eased the vinyl disc out. I admired it for a few seconds (It’s my very first record, after all) & placed it on the turntable. After taking time to gawk, I lifted the tone arm to start the record spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. I lowered the needle & gently placed it on the record. The needle’s  staticky run to the grooves hissed through the speakers. Then, the music started. Now, I don’t have a top notch sound system yet (that will come in time), so I was listening to it through the player’s internal speakers. These speakers are designed to be portable & not to punch you in the face with sound, but even so, I was absolutely blown away. I could hear every uncompressed detail of the music, from George Harrison’s loud guitar solos, to the hand-claps buried under the music. I was thoroughly impressed. When it was over, I wanted to play it again & again.

The Beatles' first Parlaphone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

The Beatles’ first Parlophone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

Now it was time to show my father. That was the ultimate test. He looked over my record player, listened to a few tunes & gave his enthusiastic approval. Then, he turned to me & said, “Let’s put this thing on my stereo & listen to it through some big speakers, just so you get an idea of what you want.”

We walked into the living room where he keeps his sound system & started the record spinning on the turntable. I can honestly tell you that this record is hands down, the best Beatle recording I have ever heard. I could hear Ringo Starr’s bass drum crystal clearly, despite the fact that producer George Martin has said that they never bothered to mic it directly. Meanwhile, on multiple occasions, Paul McCartney has said he wasn’t satisfied with the lack of Bass sound the band had on their early records. It was as prominent as ever & I’m sure Sir Paul is finally pleased. John Lennon’s chunking away on his tiny little Rickenbacker & George Harrison’s jerky & slightly nervous-sounding leads sounded like they’re right in front of me.

Record

My copy of Please Please Me.

Then, we compared it to an 1973 remaster of their last record, Abbey Road. It’s probably not the most accurate of comparisons because they’re two different records, but my dad doesn’t own Please Please Me on vinyl. I know, but you’re saying, “I thought your dad & you were Beatle freaks.” Settle down. The albums released in the United States were drastically different than the English releases, especially the early ones.* We were just trying to compare one remaster to another. Let me tell you, technology sure has advanced. 

In a production sense, Please Please Me is not the cleanest sounding album. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s supposed to be & that’s what makes it endearing. It was recorded in just 10 hours & designed to simulate their live set at the time. Needless to say, it isn’t very produced & it isn’t very warm sounding. When we played the remastered album, the guys at Abbey Road Studios somehow managed to preserve the raw rock ‘n’ roll feel, while making the record feel a little warmer & more intimate. It is definitely a job well done & a wonderful piece of work. I am extremely excited to listen to the other Beatles’ vinyl remasters because the band’s production quality & sound only improved as they kept inventing studio techniques & releasing records.

I guess I’ve gushed enough about this, huh?

If you’re interested in my listening experiences (& I hope you are), no need to fear. I have a few records coming in this week & next that I can’t wait to get my hands on, including Stephen Kellogg’s new solo album, Blunderstone Rookery & one by the Byrds. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

* The early US releases had almost no resemblance to the English originals because after rejecting the group three times, Capitol Records A&R man, Dave Dexter took it upon himself to remix the songs, cut & paste the track order, re-title the albums & ever so graciously, give himself a co-production credit. Oh, by the way, he did all this without consent from the band, their real producer, or their English label under EMI, Parlophone. Also, in 1980, a mere 12 days after John Lennon’s death, Dexter went on to write an inappropriately scathing article in Billboard Magazine, which ripped the late musician apart. Stand up guy.

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Put a Sock in it: Adjusting Volume & Life in the Trenches

Last week, a friend of mine asked me to do a post letting you all know where “putting your foot in your mouth” comes from. After a lot of looking, the best answer I can come up with is that nobody really knows.

To make up for it, I’m going to do another one this week.

Put a sock in it! It sounds similar to the requested phrase, but the meaning is completely different. For those who don’t know, it’s a way to tell someone to be quiet & it’s usually used impatiently.

The common consensus is that it’s a reference to phonographs, or record players. We all know what a record player looks like today, with the turntable & needle. When you hook it up to speakers, let it play & you have some amazing purely analog sound, the likes of which, you can’t get anywhere else. The phonograph was “invented” in 1877 by Thomas Edison (By invented, I mean had parts stolen from devices which had already been invented, all while killing animals to discredit real inventors) & back then, it looked a little different.

My opinion of Edison aside, phonographs work by putting a needle to thin grooves in either a cylindrical or disk shaped record. The vibration of the needle against tiny ridges in the grooves creates sound. Try playing a record with the volume all the way down. You can hear the music coming from the grooves. It’s very quiet, so these days, a wire attached to the needle converts the vibrations into a signal. It runs from the needle to the receiver, & then on to the speakers. The first phonograph wasn’t powered by electricity. This meant that there was no electrical signal & no speakers. Instead, the amplification came in the form of an amplifying horn. It worked on the same principle as early megaphones.

VictorTalkingLogo

A phonograph: Based on a painting of the same name, this is the original advertisement & logo for the Victor Talking Machine Company, maker of the famous phonograph brand, Victrola. It would eventually be bought out by RCA & that company would acquire the logo rights. PS the dog’s name is Nipper.
(Image of advertisement is in Public Domain)

Phonographs could only play at one volume level because the only thing that determined the volume level depended on the size of the horn was. In some cases, it was too loud for a room. The only way to turn the volume down was to throw a rag -possibly a sock- in.

The website, World Wide Words claims that this isn’t likely because one of he first written examples shows up in 1929. It shows up in a book by Frederic Manning called The Middle Parts of Fortune. It’s about his experiences in the World War I trenches. The passage is this:

“I’m not miserable, corporal,” said little Martlow. “We’re not dead yet. On’y I’m not fightin’ for any fuckin’ Beljums, see. One o’ them buggers wanted to charge me five frong for a loaf o’ bread.”
“Well, put a sock in it. We’ve ’ad enough bloody talk now.”

Another use shows up in 1919 in a special wartime series of articles & illustrations in an Australian magazine called Western Mail. World Wide Words claims that since 1919 was well after phonographs made their way into people’s homes, it’s most likely that the phrase nothing more than wartime slang that the soldiers brought back.

I tend to like the first explanation a little more because I’m a music freak & it’s a little more romanticized than, “A bunch of soldiers just kind of said it.”

At any rate, it’s certainly an interesting expression & its origins seem just as interesting.

There you have it; you’re welcome.

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Ducks in a Row: Make Way for Ducklings… & Bowling… & Billiards

“No, you’re not ready to start the project yet. Get all your ducks in a row first.”

This phrase became popular in the 1980’s in the office environment & since then, it has become quite the cliché. If you have your ducks in row, it means that all your affairs are in order & that you’re ready to proceed with whatever you have to do.

Before I explain where the phrase came from, I’ll give you a little history:

For a long time, it was thought that Stephen King first used a form the phrase in his novel, The Stand. Instead of using the phrase, “get your ducks in a row,” he writes, “Line up your ducks.” It was generally thought that the phrase quickly evolved incorrectly, as do many popular culture references (Google phrases like, “Beam me up, Scotty,” or “Play it again, Sam.”), however it was then discovered in a 1932 edition of The Washington Post.That was the earliest known example until it was found again in an 1889 edition of The Plaindealer. The author writes, “In the meantime the Democrats are getting their ducks in a row, and their ticket is promised to be very strong.”

I’ve said this before & I’ll say it again. Oral traditions come before written ones, so it probably was spoken for some time before that article.

Now you know how long we’ve been using it on paper, so now it’s time to find out where it comes from.

The first is the easiest & most straightforward. Getting your ducks in a row is a possible reference to how a mother duck organizes her ducklings in a neat row before entering a hazardous environment, such as swimming across a lake or walking across a road. Look at any family of ducks in the spring. They all follow the mother in a neat line.

800px-Mallard_with_ducklings

A mother duck with her ducklings.

That seems like it might be the answer, right? Well, hold on. There’s another one & it comes from bowling. We’ve all heard of tenpin, but there’s a much older for which uses small, stout pins & balls that fit in your hand. It was played outside & the pins were known as ducks. Eventually, it moved inside & once there, it gave birth to tenpin, which is the type of bowling you know. Duck-pin still remains as a lesser known, yet popular type of bowling, though & now that the game is inside & bowling allies have been modernized, the pins are set up by machine. Before 1936, teenage boys were hired to set up the pins. It proved to be a fairly dangerous job because of flying bowling balls & bowling pins, but back then, what children’s job wasn’t dangerous? Anyway, the player couldn’t bowl until the pinsetter set up all the pins in their rows. The general consensus among etymologists & dictionaries is that this is why we say it.

Pinboys_nclc.04636

Pin boys set up bowling pins in Brooklyn in 1910.
Photo courtesy of National Child Labor Committee collection at the Library of Congress

Other explanations include shooting galleries at carnivals & billiards (a ball sitting in front of the pocket on a pool table is called a duck).

Well, there you have it. Another mystery almost solved. Just make sure you have all your ducks in a row the next time you go bowling.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Three Sheets to the Wind: As Drunk as a Poorly Sailed Ship

I know I missed last week’s Bologna, but I’ll try to make up for it by giving you two this week.

Let’s get started.

Three sheets to the wind:

Like so many phrases, this one comes from the high seas.

Imagine you’re an officer on an Eighteenth Century warship. Your men are thirsty, so you have to go find some water. You take a trip to the galley, where one of the mess officers has just gotten a new barrel of water from the hold. The officer opens the barrel & reels away in disgust because it smells like cheese. It’s green with algae & gross with bacteria. Your men are going to be pissed. See, in the days before refridgeration, the water was stored in the hold without any way of preserving it. Things like bilge water would seep into the containers & taint it, causing it to go bad within weeks. There was one alternative, though…

Well, what was that alternative?

Alcohol. Maybe your men won’t be so pissed after all.

Lamb's_Navy_151[1]

“Sir, the water’s turned again. I can’t give it to the men & they’re thirsty. What should I do?”
“Uh, I don’t care. Give them a whole lot of this.”

Yes, that’s right; sailors were given rum & beer in place of water. It was called a rum ration. The rule wasn’t abolished until 1970, & only then because they found that, “regular intakes of alcohol would lead to unsteady hands when working machinery.” That was the understatment of the… well millennium, considering this had been practiced for centuries. Imagine being a sailor in 1700, with your “unsteady hands” trying to work & fire a 1 ton cannon in the heat of battle, after downing a tumbler full of rum.

Originally, the expression was, “Three  sheets in the wind,” & it started as part of a secret drunk-scale that sailors invented to describe their shipmates’ levels of intoxication. Designed to keep officers ignorant of drunk sailors (because even though they supplied you with the alcohol, you could still be punished for being drunk on duty), the scale ranged from, “A sheet in the wind’s eye,” which meant the sailor was a little buzzed, up to, “Three sheets in the wind.” You all know what that last one means. Eventually,  the “in” was switched to “to” & it became the expression you all  know.

What is a sheet & why is it in the wind? Well, keep on reading because I’m about to tell you.
I bet all you  landlubbers assume that the word, “sheets” refers to the sails. You’d be wrong. The word is actually a reference to the lines which were tied to the bottom corners of the sails to keep them in place. (The word comes from the Old English word scaeta, meaning “lower corner of the sail.”)

1280px-GearAtYardarm[1]

This is a diagram of part of a ship’s mast. Note the sheet which attaches the upper topsail to the yardarm.
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia user PeteVerdon.

If one of the sheets were to become loose, it would shake in the wind, causing the sails to move. This, in turn, would cause the ship to jerk around & roll. If more were loose, the roll would progressively get worse. Sailors equated this to the stumbling of a drunk person.

Three sheets to the wind = three crucial parts of the rigging loose & flapping in the wind, causing the ship to sway & roll, just like a drunk sailor. The ordinary sailor could freely talk about his wasted friend & the officers would think they were talking about routine problems with sailing. Genius.

Now you know. You’re welcome.

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